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Head Coach Chuck Koeppen’s men’s cross-country team looks like a title contender in his final season

By David Zheng

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His men’s cross-country team has won 10 State titles and has racked up nine State runner-up finishes. He has coached many individual State champions and winners of the Mental Attitude Award, and has even won the men’s and women’s State cross-country meets on the same day four different times. He won his first men’s cross-country title in 1976 and hopes to win his last in 2008.

But after 37 years of coaching cross-country at this school, men’s cross-country Head Coach Chuck Koeppen has decided to retire from coaching the sport and end his memorable high school coaching career. “I’m not too old to still get things done, but my days of coaching cross-country are done,” Koeppen said.
Despite Koeppen’s decision to retire, the men’s cross-country team is ranked Number-1 in the state, according to “Nothing’s changed there,” Koeppen said. “We were ranked Number-1 in the preseason and we’re still ranked Number-1 now.”

However, the team’s Number-1 ranking does not shift the runners from their main goal. “We just like to go into races not thinking we’re Number-1 because we don’t want to psyche ourselves out, because there are other teams out there that are just as good as us,” Brian Bates, one of four captains for the men’s varsity cross-country team and senior, said. “We just like to keep ourselves down to earth and focus on our main goal, which is winning.”

“I think it’s harder when we’re ranked Number-1 because you have nothing to chase after,” Chris Walden, varsity runner and sophomore, said. “I think it’s easier if you’re a rank close to Number-1, like a Number-2 ranked team. Then you can go off and try to catch that Number-1 team. But being Number-1 makes it harder on us mentally.”

Just as they were projected to be in the preseason, the men’s cross-country team is still a contender for the State title, with six out of last year’s seven varsity members returning, according to Bates. “It’s a big year for us, and our goal is just to win (Koeppen) a State championship,” Bates said. “As of now we’re still getting everyone together, but things should be falling into place by the end of the season. By that time we’ll definitely be big contenders.”

Walden said, “Our first meet was a preview of all the best teams in the Midwest, including top teams from schools in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, and we were one of those teams. We won that meet pretty well, so I think that kind of shows what we have and that we still look like a pretty good contender for that State championship.”

Koeppen couldn’t agree more. “We are a very talented group and we’re certainly counting on being towards the top at the State meet,” Koeppen said. “If everyone stays healthy, then we will be a really good team. Also, another thing kids don’t think about is that if they stay focused, work hard, don’t take shortcuts and have the right kind of attitude, then we will be a contender and have a chance to win.”

Although Koeppen is retiring after this season, he says he’ll still be connected with the sport of cross-country somehow. “(Coaching cross-country) has been a real joy for me. There have also been a lot of people to thank, too. A lot of assistant coaches, parents and support groups have helped me out,” Koeppen said. “Certainly all this wasn’t something I did by myself. Most of all it’s just been a lot of fun, and I’ve worked with a lot of great kids over the years.”

This season, being Koeppen’s last, is special to both him and the runners. “Carmel hasn’t had (a State championship) since 1996. For the past 10 years we’ve been really close but haven’t been able to get it done, so we want to get after it this year,” Walden said. “We’re doing it for Coach (Koeppen) in his last year, and our team would do more for each other than any other team in the state.”

The State meet is scheduled for Nov. 1 at Indiana State University, which is located in Terre Haute.
“Basically this (being Koeppen’s last season) means that we have to win,” Bates said. “There are four seniors on our varsity team and it’s our last season. There’s only one thing that we have on our mind and that is to win State.”

Koeppen said that, whatever the ending, his final season will be one to remember.

“Well, this season is going to be bittersweet, I can tell you that much,” Koeppen said. “I am certainly going to miss it when I retire. There’s no question about that. It’ll be a great season. I’m sure of that. I’m blessed with some great kids to work with, and I’m looking forward to enjoying every minute of it.”